WASHINGTON — Attorneys for the Washington Post asked the full U.S. Court of Appeals on Wednesday to rehear an appeal in a libel suit by William Tavoulareas, a former president of Mobil Oil Corp.
On April 9, a three-judge appeals panel reinstated a lower court jury's decision that the newspaper libeled Tavoulareas in a 1979 article about his business dealings and awarded him $2.05 million in damages.
The panel, in a 2-1 decision, said U.S. District Judge Oliver Gasch was wrong to throw out the 1982 jury award of $250,000 in compensatory damages and $1.8 million in punitive damages for Tavoulareas.
The Post article said Tavoulareas had "set up" his son, Peter, as a partner in Atlas Maritime Co.
Six of the 10 active judges--there are two vacancies--must vote to rehear the case \o7 en banc.\f7 However, should the court agree, Senior Circuit Judge George E. MacKinnon, who wrote the opinion for the panel, could be permitted to sit when the case is reheard.
In the 10-page request for a rehearing, the newspaper's lawyers said the panel's decision would radically alter the law of libel.
"The changes wrought by the majority do not lend themselves to correction or modification in future cases; they are fundamental," the Post said. "They will alter the way the courts judge the press and the way the press reports the news."
In the future, the Post said, "the mere commitment to investigative journalism will be held against a libel defendant, and ordinary editorial judgments of interpretation and emphasis will be subject to sanction at the largely unchecked discretion of trial judges."